Illinois star big man Kofi Cockburn, a two-time consensus All-American with the Fighting Illini, announced Wednesday he will forgo his remaining college eligibility and is entering the 2022 NBA Draft. Cockburn, a dominant 7-footer, was one of only four players in college hoops last season to average a double-double in points and rebounds, with 20.9 points and 10.6 rebounds per game.
"To play in the NBA has been a longtime dream of mine and I truly think it's time for me to take that next step," he said on Twitter. "I will be putting my name into the 2022 NBA Draft and signing with an agent."
Cockburn tested the NBA Draft waters each of the past two years and briefly entered the transfer portal last season before returning to Illinois and putting up a career year. This time, however, there's no turning back. NBA rules allow for a player to test the draft only twice while still returning; a third time is the point of no return.
In putting the NBA on hold last year, Cockburn was considered one of college basketball's most dominant returning bigs and established himself as exactly that. He was the only player in the sport to average at least 20 points and 10 rebounds per game, and he led the Illini -- a team that suffered through fits and starts throughout the year -- to a No. 4 seed in the 2022 NCAA Tournament.
Still, despite stardom in college, how high he goes in the draft -- if at all -- is a separate question entirely. He is not ranked in thefor the 2022 NBA Draft. And given the way the game at the NBA level has changed, defending in space may be a real threat to his pro prospects and others of his ilk who play a more traditional back-to-the-basket game as a big.
For Illinois, it's a crushing loss to a team that was already set to turn over quite a bit of its roster this offseason. Cockburn is the fifth of the Illini's top seven scorers from last year set to either transfer, graduate or go pro, joining the likes of Andre Curbelo and Alfonso Plummer. Coach Brad Underwood and staff have seemingly prepared as well as possible, though, with a current top-10 incoming recruiting class led by five-star guard Skyy Clark and four-star recruits Ty Rodgers, Jayden Epps and Sencire Harris. Baylor transfer Dain Dainja should help with frontcourt depth for next season as well, and Cockburn's official departure may give Underwood and his staff the green light to go after bigs in the transfer portal.